I miss the Reading Lady on Williston–that tiny road on the back side of town.
She was my favorite sign of spring.
Appearing there on the porch of her aging Victorian.
Layers shed beneath gingerbread lattice
While the season unfolded into summer.
First a cup of tea and a blanket.
Then a glass of lemonade and a sun hat.
And always a book (and reading glasses.)
Well into autumn.
Right there on the corner as I drove by.
Did she move away or worse–pass away?
I like to imagine her on the coast of Maine.
Overlooking the ocean or perhaps beside a quiet bay.
Waves lapping at the dock
Where she reads
While the world
A bit slower
I step outside the bakery.
The flakes are wondrous.
Shops along Main Street empty of keepers and customers wanting to see.
All the kids are still in school so it’s just us grownups.
And even if you are as old as me, you can’t help but stick out your tongue, and effortlessly share in winter’s communion. The holy sacrament. Of snow.
Despite the magic, I decide that I better head home.
I drive slow out of town.
I approach a standstill at Route 9, the highway that leads to my mountain home.
I turn into the Chelsea Royal and attempt to assess the situation.
Is that a farm vehicle? A truck?
I turn around. I’ll take the back roads.
I stop for WIFI to share an update in on our community Facebook group, but the power is out at Dunkin Donuts, and at both the gas stations, they tell me.
A fire truck speeds by.
Must be a pole down.
Live wires, someone says.
I pass a vehicle in a snow bank, another in a ditch.
An ambulance speeds by.
A police car.
I stop at my dentist office, but it’s closed.
I stand outside the door and use the WIFI.
I take the road past Lilac Ridge Farm because its flat.
I stop for a photo. I pass Round Mountain, and use my mind to capture its majesty because I need traction now as Ames Hill Road begins to climb.
Cars without snow tires or studs or without steep slippery driveways like mine are pulled to the side of the road or stopped altogether in the middle or somewhere else, unintended.
I consider pulling into the Robb Family Farm myself, but all the spaces are taken. I remember the night of Irene, how this farm was the turning point, of no turning back, and how passing it, even months later, brought back the terror of that drive home. Of roads eaten away by water. Of a car, hanging in a ditch. Of trees strewn everywhere. Of boulders appearing where a dirt road was supposed to be.
One more turn up hill, and there are too many cars paused, and I become one of the casualties, and slide to the wrong side of the road, but still on it, and kind of out of the way.
Others speed by.
My heart swells with envy for AWD and especially trucks.
They resent me, and those like me, in the way.
I roll down my window.
I talk to a friendly guy named Jeff, heading to town, who offers to push me.
I don’t think that’s a good idea, I say, just as Jeff does a dance that takes him swiftly to the ground.
Other drivers stop to make similar suggestions.
I hand out my last Lake Champlain Valentine chocolates to each one–to my brother in law who was one of the cars I passed earlier, but then passed me after he put chains on his tires; and to my neighbor who volunteers with the Fire Department and who radios in about the condition of the road, and who helps spin my car downhill and temporarily into a driveway; and to the guy in the truck who later tells me, when I start to head back down to town, don’t do it, it’s worse that way now, cars allover the place.
And so I sit in my car on the side of the road, facing the right way now,
And hope no one hits me.
And change my mind about which seat is the safest, and whether or not I should wear a seat belt.
I have my laptop, but I’m too anxious to work.
I inventory my car’s contents.
I pick up trash.
I inventory my trunk’s contents.
I change my seat three times.
I regret my generosity with the chocolate, just a little bit.
There are no snacks in car, not even left behind on the floor or the seats. The kids are grown.
I have three blankets, and a flashlight. Nightfall is about an hour away.
A pair of gloves.
I have water. I even have chai.
But I have to pee so I can’t have either.
I could pee outside. I have tissues.
The snow bank is too deep. The road too slippery. The house across the road empty.
Cars heading uphill slow to a trickle.
Cars downhill still at a standstill.
Then, wait, what’s that?
It is, IT IS!
A SANDER barrels by, spraying delicious, dark chocolate dirt across the road.
I wait until the road around me is completely empty, and then I climb over the stick shift, and into the driver’s seat. I back up. I spin around. I decide on heading up hill–the direction I was forced to abandon over an hour earlier.
I don’t see another soul. I climb out of Brattleboro, past the sheep farm and the apple orchard, and approach the line into Marlboro, neatly delineated where, to my dismay, chocolate ends, and vanilla begins again, and yet the familiarity lends comfort, even without traction.
As I crest the last climb, the snow suddenly stops, and the sun arrives, welcoming me home, or mocking all the dark drama down below.
I pass the cemetery. I pull over to take a photo of the sky passed Liz and Craig’s.
The road beneath my feet is slick.
My neighbor, the fireman, passes me by again.
I turn downhill onto MacArthur, the road which bears his name.
I drive even slower. Test my brakes.
Wave past his aunt’s house.
The world is milky white and silent and stunning.
I photograph his grandfather’s house from below.
I forget that John died just last month.
I approach my own land. I slow for a man with two dogs,
and then accelerate again to get up my driveway, but pass it when I find it overflowing.
How has so much snow fallen in such a short storm?
I continue down to Camp Neringa, turn around in the driveway, exhale when I don’t end up stuck or in a ditch.
Tuck my car on the side of the road.
Hike up to my house.
Look back at the narrow path of my boot prints.
Gather wood from the shed for the fire.
Sit in the dark as the sun goes down.
Hold a flashlight.
Wait for the power to go back on.
My husband and I lounge under the covers as a jeweled sun sparkles through the trees on its way to our sky.
When the wind blows, the forest sways, dispatching flashes of gold onto our bodies, offering a perfect sermon for a Sunday morning.
Easter 2015, A.D.
The baskets are waiting. The eggs dyed. The reservations for brunch confirmed.
Last night we watched Chocolat with Lake Champlain 5 Star Chocolate Bars, and then listened to bits and pieces of the soundtrack from Godspell, centering on the score for the Crucifixion scene.
Most memorable, however, was the moment I pulled out 4 plates (of my Nana’s china) instead of 3, because our oldest was home.
He had surprised us, downtown, the night before, when we were doing what I love best–floating from place to place, bumping into something sweet–which is particularly potent on a spring evening at Gallery Walk in Brattleboro.
My youngest and I had just finished our monthly stroll through the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center–one of our favorite stops through the years–where we always take time to visit the kids room to make some art of our own.
It was inside the River Garden, however, where the family first came together, as a whole, attracted by the sounds of horns, played by the stunning Brattleboro High School Jazz Band.
During a particularly poignant interlude–when my husband’s hand clasped mine, and geese flew over the river, and spring stirred inside me–I felt something I’d never felt before:
Toward new life.
In that moment, I knew the seasons were indifferent.
That spring would come, whether I welcomed it, or celebrated it, or–worse yet–
whether I was here for it.
Perhaps it was my age, 51, ripening past peak, or the long white winter spilling into April, or that a loved one’s life was on the line; but suddenly—the young girls in bloom, the birds return, and the color green–represented something beyond–me.
Just like winter, I would pass, and the giddy world would go on resurrecting… without me.
the smell of rain the smell of rain the smell of rain
Hugs between friends last a bit longer this time of year; while caffeine and chocolate consumption climbs. It’s not winter. It’s the in between time. The waiting. The last foot of snow. The slow melt.
Those of us who can’t leave, head east to Brattleboro, where a 10 mile difference makes for grass. Like winter refugees, we soak up their signs of spring; our lives held hostage by a hill. By mud. By a home. By a family to whom we’re expected to return, and to make dinner and small talk; when what we really want to do is drive south. And never stop.
(I can’t go. I can’t go. I can’t. Right? Even if friends post beach weather just 300 miles away. )
My husband suggests that I work down in Brattleboro this week. “It’s supposed to be sixties in town,” he says. “It will only make it to about 50 up here.”
I add another piece of wood to the stove and try to settle in with a cup of tea; but my mind is as itchy and inflamed as my skin; desperate to shed winter’s wool.
I look outside and note the increasing signs–the green cap of the septic tank, the garden beds, the dry patches of dead grass–indicating land in what has been a sea of snow. Despite this welcome melting, winter continues to trump spring; white beats brown; and my glass is half-empty, and leaking.
“Why don’t we go down to Brattleboro now,” my husband says.
Though it sounds like a booby prize to the beach, I reluctantly get dressed so that he and I can walk the streets downtown, without boots, and drift into shops, and join an event at the River Garden center which sits on the Connecticut and has a glass roof that lets in lots of light.
There we find live music and hot chai and loads of desserts and fellow refugees from up the hill. I hug one too long, as if holding on; and then I dash back toward the front entrance. Toward a sudden and unexpected rain. Not rain on snow which is a sad, sad thing. But rain on earth. And rain on roads. And rain on sidewalks and rooftops–and us.
Just as the sky really lets loose, the sun bursts onto the scene–with a rainbow–stretching across the Connecticut and touching down at the foot of Mt. Wantastiquet. People flock out the back exit onto the deck to see the promise of color; because even though Brattleboro has lost its snow, it is stalled in monochrome.
One man turns toward me, beaming, noting the sweet smell.
“Don’t you love it,” I say, restraining myself from embracing him.
“I smelled it this morning too,” he continues. “Up at our place where there’s still a foot of snow.”
“Two feet,” his wife counters.
“But it smelled like rain, even without earth,” he says.
I smile. And sniff. And consider the different scents that come with rain; and wonder if it has its own.
I walk back to the front entrance and smell the sidewalks and the road. I return to the deck and smell the wood and the earth and the river. I finish back at the road and stay there awhile because it takes me to my childhood. To rain on hot tar in Virginia. Lying face down in the road so that I could soak up every ounce of that delicious, fresh scent before the sun smoked it away.
We linger past the rain, and into the evening at the River Garden, and when we finally head home, into the hills of snow, I feel freer. I decide to stay put. To be here to bear witness to my own spring’s emergence–to the return of our very first Robin; and even more beholding–to the appearance of a baseball–tribute to the life once lived–right here–where it shall return again.
I’m proud to say that 2013 marks my 20th year in Vermont, but I’m equally embarrassed to admit that this year also marks my first time attending the renown Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro.
I was afraid. I was afraid of caring too much. I was afraid of paying money to watch something that would make me sad. I didn’t understand what it was all about. I hadn’t really thought about it being a fundraiser. And, most revealing, I didn’t see myself as one of “those” women–the ones who I imagined as angry or righteous and needing “all about women” things.
I was in the dark.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen 3 of the 24 films in the 2013 season, and I only want more. Yes, I’ve teared up a bit, but mostly I’ve been enlightened and invigorated and stirred. What’s even more inspiring is the reason behind the festival which is best described in a VPR interview by Vickie Sterling, the co-director of the Women’s Freedom Center which organizes the festival each year:
Film, like all media, is incredibly influential, and our ideas about how we see ourselves and each other and the world are really shaped by the images and stories we see on screen.
But in the US, most of the films made and seen are done so by men. In fact, 92% of all feature film screen writers are male as are 95% of the directors.
What happens when you have that sort of imbalance is that women’s stories are fairly one-dimensional–we get these characters who are really portrayed as men would like them to be, rather than as they really are; and the message then conveyed is a woman’s value really is in her youth, her beauty and her sexuality.
We think it’s vital for women to tell their own stories.
I hate to admit it, but this sobering truth never occurred to me before. Not in this way. Not with this clarity or weight.
The striking thing is that I’m not new to women’s issues. I’ve long cared about them. I ‘ve spoken up about them. And yet; there is still so much I take for granted or that I swallow without questioning. I can’t afford to do that anymore. The world can’t afford it.
It’s time for privileged women like me to LEAN IN and lead so that other women have a chance too.
Against my better judgement, I signed up to work the cheese “stroll” following the annual Heifer Parade, thereby prolonging the mayhem of Brattleboro–instead of making the mad dash out of town right after Bernie waves–which is when the crowd cheers and moves en masse toward the fair upon the “Retreat” Grounds–which I might have to check into after today.
When I descend the steep hill from the Town Green to the fields below, and find my way to the Co-op’s tent, I am surprised to discover that I won’t be standing right behind the platters of cheese like I’ve seen workers in aprons do in years past. Instead, the role that my husband and I are assigned to is: behind the lines to cut the cheese. (I never noticed those people before.)
I’ve never cut the cheese either, and as I attempt to learn the varieties in front of me, I wonder why the coordinator doesn’t just rely on member workers from her own department. It would make her job simpler; but she says that she likes to spread the wealth. And spread, we do; because Casey and I are assigned to the spreading table.
Olive and herb goat cheese.
After an hour, I find myself in a rhythm of cutting and spreading, discreetly placing the broken rice things dipped in cheese aside for my own covert snacking; and carefully wiping the leftover cheese crumbles from the cutting board onto my salad for the lunch I will eat when this two hour shift is done.
I’ve never realized how sensual a cheese can be; and despite the heat and the crowds, I am happy. I don’t care how much cheese people eat, and whether they appreciate it, or whether they consider visiting the Co-op to buy it, because I am one with the cheese, and its virtue transcends consumerism.
I am so happy (and a bit delirious) that when it is finally time for me and cheese to part, that I decide to stick around at the fair, and listen to music, and dance, and eat my salad with the assorted cheese crumbles.
Somehow cutting the cheese made the difference between fleeing from–and floating through–this afternoon in Brattleboro.
I am still on the grounds when the day closes, licking brie from my fingers.
It’s not that cheese is new to me. I’ve visited France. And I’ve always appreciated the cheese department of the Brattleboro Co-op–back to the days when Henry cut the cheese.
But now I have a greater intimacy with this craft. It’s become personal–and local–made right here in the Green Mountain State– by small farms with names I know~
Jasper Hill Creamery.
Champlain Valley Creamery.
Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.
Now when I’m shopping, I pause even longer at the cheese counter… My husband and I pick up one familiar soft friend after another, and gently caress it like a lover. We consider signing up for the same shift next year, and in the meantime, we decide to make a date with a baguette, a bottle of wine, and some artisanal cheeses from around our state.
Kelly Salasin, June 2011
ps. Casey & I did sign up to work the cheese stroll in 2012–and cheerfully reported to duty–even in the pouring rain.
I search on the internet and the find that the only thing new about Richard is my own writing on this blog. What’s happening? It’s been almost half a year. Wouldn’t it be convenient to imagine Richard never existed?
But then I think about the Martins. How are they moving forward? How important is the trial to them? When is the trial?
(I was just called for jury duty; but not for a criminal case–Thank God.)
Yesterday, I came upon a poem about being in prison. My son was home sick and asked if I’d read to him while he ate his soup. I picked up the book that I found at the Marlboro Book Swap last year, and blew off the dust. I had intended to read excerpts from A Call to Character on a regular basis, but the practice died long ago.
“Let’s find something about kindness,”I say.
My son smirks with embarrassment. Just a moment earlier he snapped at me in that sardonic “tween-age” fashion. In my best NVC, I let him know it stung. With his big heart, it pains him to know that he’s hurt me, even if he can’t help himself.
“Darn, there’s no section on Kindness, only Compassion” I say. “But you’ve got plenty of that.”
“Read anything,” he says, delighted to have me seated beside him all day.
I flip through the stories and plays and fables, and a poem catches my eye in the Self-discipline category. I begin reading… to myself.
“Read aloud,” my son begs.
“This one is about being in jail; I don’t think you’ll like it.”
...To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
ten or fifteen years inside
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!
Kelly Salasin, January 2012
ps. My apologies to those of you who clicked the link to MacArthur Rd above. I couldn’t help myself. That song won’t leave my mind today, especially as it rains on top of our long-awaited snow.